In the General Audience this Wednesday, June 8, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on old age, focusing today on the “rebirth” within the elderly.
Here are the words of Pope Francis:
“Among the most relevant elderly figures in the Gospels is Nicodemus -one of the leaders of the Jews- who, wanting to meet Jesus, went to him secretly and at night (cf. Jn 3:1-21).
In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, the heart of Jesus’ revelation and of his redemptive mission emerges, when he says: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish.” but have eternal life” (v. 16).
Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to “see the kingdom of God” one must be “born from above” (v. 3). It is not about being born again, repeating our coming to the world, hoping that a new reincarnation reopens our possibility of a better life.
This repetition makes no sense. On the contrary, it would empty the lived life of all meaning, erasing it as if it were a failed experiment, an expired value, a wasted emptiness. No, it is not this, this being born again of which Jesus speaks: it is something else. This life is precious in the eyes of God: it identifies us as creatures tenderly loved by Him.
The “birth from above”, which allows us to “enter” the kingdom of God, is a generation in the Spirit, a passage through the waters towards the promised land of a creation reconciled with the love of God. It is a rebirth from above, with the grace of God. It is not a physical rebirth at another time.
Nicodemus misunderstands this birth and questions old age as proof of its impossibility: the human being inevitably grows old, the dream of eternal youth definitively recedes, the consummation is the landing place of any birth in time.
How can you imagine a destiny that has the form of birth? Nicodemus thinks like this and cannot find a way to understand the words of Jesus. This rebirth, what is it?
Nicodemus’s objection is very instructive for us. In fact, we can turn it, in the light of the word of Jesus, into the discovery of a mission proper to old age. In fact, being old is not only not an obstacle to the birth from above that Jesus speaks of, but it becomes the opportune moment to enlighten him, freeing him from the incomprehension of a lost hope.
Our times and our culture, which show a worrying tendency to consider the birth of a child as a simple matter of biological production and reproduction of the human being, then cultivate the myth of eternal youth as the -desperate- obsession of incorruptible flesh. Because old age is -in many ways- despised. Because it bears the irrefutable proof of the dismissal of this myth, which would make us return to the womb, to be forever young in body.
Technology is attracted to this myth in every way: waiting to defeat death, we can keep the body alive with drugs and cosmetics, which delay, hide, eliminate old age. Of course, one thing is well-being and another is the feeding of myths.
However, it cannot be denied that the confusion between the two causes us a mental confusion. Confusing well-being with feeding the myth of eternal youth. So many things are done to regain that youth: so many tricks, so many surgeries to look young. I remember the words of a wise Italian actress, Magnani, when they told her that they had to remove the wrinkles, and she said: “No, don’t touch them! So many years to get them: don’t touch them!”.
It is this: wrinkles are a symbol of experience, a symbol of life, a symbol of maturity, a symbol of having made a journey. Don’t touch them so they become young, but young on the face: what matters is the whole personality, what matters is the heart, and the heart remains with that youth of good wine, that the older it gets the better it is.
Mortal life in the flesh is a beautiful “unfinished”: like certain works of art that precisely in their incompleteness have a unique charm. Because life here below is “initiation”, not completion: we come into the world like this, as real people, as people who progress in age, but who are always real.
But life in mortal flesh is too small a space and time to keep intact and bring to fruition the most precious part of our existence in world time. Faith, which welcomes the evangelical proclamation of the kingdom of God to which we are destined, has an extraordinary first effect, says Jesus. It allows us to “see” the kingdom of God. We become able to actually see the many signs of our hope for the realization of what, in our lives, bears the mark of God’s destiny for eternity.
The signs are those of evangelical love, illuminated in many ways by Jesus. And if we can “see” them, we can also “enter” the kingdom, with the passage of the Spirit through the regenerating water.
Old age is the condition, granted to many of us, in which the miracle of this birth from above can be intimately assimilated and made credible for the human community: it does not communicate the nostalgia of the birth in time, but the love for the final destination.
In this perspective, old age has a unique beauty: we walk towards the Eternal. No one can re-enter the womb, not even its technological and consumerist substitute. This does not give wisdom, this does not give a completed path, this is artificial. It would be sad, even if it was possible. The old man walks forward, the old man walks towards destiny, towards God’s heaven, the old man walks with the lived wisdom of him during life. Old age is, therefore, a special moment to liberate the future from the technocratic illusion of biological and robotic survival, but above all because it opens itself to the tenderness of the creative and generating bosom of God.
In this case, I would highlight this word: the tenderness of the old. Observe a grandfather or a grandmother how they look at their grandchildren, how they caress their grandchildren: that tenderness, free from all human trials, that has passed human trials and is capable of freely giving love, the loving closeness of one to the other. other. This tenderness opens the door to understanding God’s tenderness. Let us not forget that the Spirit of God is closeness, compassion and tenderness.
God is like that, he knows how to caress. And old age helps us to understand this dimension of God that is tenderness. Old age is the special time to dissolve the future of the technocratic illusion, it is the time of the tenderness of God who creates, creates a path for all of us.
May the Spirit grant us the reopening of this spiritual -and cultural- mission of old age, which reconciles us with the birth from above. When we think of old age in this way, then we say: how is it that this throwaway culture decides to throw away the old, considering them useless? The elderly are the messengers of the future, the elderly are the messengers of tenderness, the elderly are the messengers of the wisdom of a lived life. Let’s go ahead and see the old.”